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Car reviews - SsangYong - Korando - SX 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Ample interior space, well featured, supple suspension at touring speeds
Room for improvement
Brittle ride over sharp bumps, sloppy gearshift, cheap feel to some interior trim, no steering wheel reach adjustment

SsangYong logo24 Mar 2011

By PHILIP LORD

IT IS hard to accept that the new Korando is related in any way to previous SsangYong design treats like the Actyon Sports Ute and Stavic people-mover.

Who knows how far SsangYong was locked in to its future design plans when company executives realised its styling direction was all a terrible mistake? Perhaps, at the time, the Korean car-maker was distracted by fixing other disasters, such keeping the business afloat.

All that is past tense. This new Korando was designed by Italians at Giugiaro, and unlike Leyland with the P76 (which was also sketched by an Italian designer, Michelotti) it appears no-one at the SsangYong team whipped out the crayons to allow room for a 44-gallon drum. In the P76’s case, such local ‘input’ made the car one of Australia’s ugliest, even if from an engineering perspective, one of the better ones.

Though not all current compact SUVs are pure in form, the new SsangYong is one of the better proportioned among its peers. SsangYong won’t have trouble with potential buyers admiring their new wagon it’s just the credibility gap it’ll need buyers to jump over. Few will believe it’s the progeny of SsangYong.

The interior is a pretty flavoursome design too, although it offer more of a fast-food chain ambience than that of a boutique restaurant. Soft-feel plastics and quality leather costs money, and SsangYong has spent up elsewhere. Italian designers don’t come cheaply, presumably.

The things that really count though – such as seat comfort, driver vision and access to controls and instruments – are all pretty good. The centre stack is well designed, with controls positioned high up, reducing driver distraction. While the A-pillars present a bigger blind spot than some competitors, it is something you can work around. Like almost all other compacts, the D-pillars are thick and rear window small.

There is plenty of space in the cabin, with supportive front seats surrounded by ample leg, shoulder and head room. In the back, a flat footwell and wide door openings promise easy access and the 60/40-split folding seat itself is sufficiently contoured for three across – although as is typical in the class, three fleshy adults sitting there are not going to have much shoulder room.

The cargo area presents a flat floor space and with the (full-size) alloy spare wheel fitted underneath the false floor face-down, there is additional space for odds and ends. The Korando’s swept-back tail reduces cargo area height and the loading lip also appears quite high, yet otherwise this is a usefully proportioned stowage area.

The Korando’s standard turbo-diesel has all the bells and whistles on its spec sheet – it meets the upcoming Euro 5 emissions legislations, it has a variable-vane turbocharger, an air-to-air intercooler and common-rail high-pressure fuel-injection.

Yet when firing up this engine, it emits the old-school diesel clatter that will put off plenty of potential customers who have grown up with petrol cars. While not especially intrusive (and it all but disappears at cruising speeds above 90km/h), the diesel rattle is more muted in some competitors and thus more palatable for those who have not quite got used to the idea of life without sparkplugs.

The market is becoming more accepting of diesel models, but you have to serve up a fair bit of refinement alongside to make it palatable for the novices, and the Korando’s engine might be a deal-breaker.

Never mind the noise - feel the torque! That may be the sales pitch, but if our experience with two different Korandos is anything to go by, you really have to let this engine run-in a little to know what it can do.

With just under 1000km under the belts of both vehicles we drove, the Korando redefines the term turbo lag. It is more turbo off, turbo on. So as you join a main road, letting out the clutch and accelerating, it feels as if a man with a red flag in front is not walking fast enough and the traffic that was miles behind is now tailgating you. And then, as the tacho ambles its way up to 1800rpm, the engine gives a nice kick and you’re sprinting to 4500rpm.

However, about 800km later, the engine transformed. There was still turbo lag but not nearly as much, and the transition to when turbo boost kicked in was more gradual and predictable. The Korando’s torque in the 2000-3000rpm region is really strong and if you choose to rev it the diesel is relatively smooth, although it’s still not really worth pushing past 4000rpm.

Fuel consumption dropped to 8.7L/100km in easy highway cruising but with some city work added in it averaged 9.8L/100km. Again, maybe this is an engine that does better as the kilometres clock up.

The Korando’s cruise control boasts an ‘Eco mode’, which is supposed to factor in a less aggressive throttle control map to maintain set speed, meaning less fuel is used. That’s the theory, but in practice we couldn’t tell much difference between normal cruise control mode and Eco mode either in terms of operation or fuel economy over 600km of freeway driving.

The six-speed manual gearshift is rubbery and one that requires a bit of getting used to too, but it was rare that we missed a gearchange – not always a given with a six-speeder. The clutch feel, however, took us ages to get used to. The take-up point was hard to gauge with the super-light pedal, aggravated by the engine’s turbo-lag. Again, however, with less turbo lag after more drive time, the clutch take-up was more predictable.

It always feels like you need to excuse an SUV for not handling very well, but the fact is very few actually do handle as well as passenger cars. The Volkswagen Tiguan and Mazda CX-7 are probably the benchmarks in this compact diesel SUV class, and the Korando is not going to threaten either of them.

That said, the Korando’s steering does respond well to a request for a change in direction and, although the steering is not whip-quick in initial response or razor-sharp when it comes to feel or feedback, bodyroll is kept well in check while tyre grip is quite acceptable.

You won’t feel as if you are constantly fighting against the car in press-on conditions, but neither its chassis or steering response will leave a smile on your face. Nor are sharp road bumps absorbed particularly well, but as a family wagon the Korando does offer a good compromise between ride comfort and handling dynamics.

Bristling with more style than any SsangYong before it and backing that up with an equal dose of substance, the Korando is just what SsangYong needs to re-invent itself in Australia, and at just over $30,000 plus on-road costs for the mid-range SX diesel tested here, the Korando represents a refreshing point of difference without breaking the bank.

The fact is, however, that the Korando sits somewhere around the average mark overall within a highly competitive compact SUV class, although that’s not such a bad result for a company whose previous products were becoming so irrelevant to the market that it was headed towards abject failure.

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